Kindle-izing the Backlist, Headaches & Headlines

My journey into Kindle-land continues, and the tedium-monster (“it’s alive!!!”) has an endless appetite. Actually, I’ve made good progress. But since I promised a step-by-step account, this entry describes my AHA-discovery of a week ago regarding the HTML worry.

You see, in a paper book the table of contents (TOC) set down in black and white in the front matter proves easy enough to review. Most nonfiction books also include an index for additional help to access must-know information. That saves the reader from flipping through tons of pages to get to the really good stuff. I don’t know about you, but my favorite reference books also sport a bristling array of Post-It book marks that highlight the information I may want to easily find. Even in a fiction book, folks use bookmarks to remember where they left off reading the day before or (gasp!) fold a page corner as a reminder.

Enter the Kindle (or your flavor-of-the-month E-reader). Without physical pages to flip or fold,  the reader instead must scroll through the pages to find the information that floats their boat. As with Webpages, the text can be coded to allow shortcuts to “jump” from a particular keyword to a “bookmark” later in the text, typically using HTML code.

If I got the details wrong, please don’t jump down my virtual throat–I am not a techie, and am lucky to have even this wispy grasp of the subject! Until now, all I wanted to know about computers was where to find the “on/off” switch. Ahem.

In any event, in debating whether to take the Kindle-leap, I debated about purchasing HTML software. Or perhaps, I thought, turning the file into a PDF version (complete with color photos?!) could work? Uh…nope. The folks at Amazon Kindle have kindly created a forum for would-be self publishers and a quick search there revealed that a PDF version must be translated into something else before being uploaded to another something else and…

Suffice it to say, PDF means more work. The HTML software programs costs $$$ that I’m not interested in spending on an experiment meant to cost only time. Others may feel differently (I can hear the technorati folks snickering. Yes, I mean you!). I do know a bit of HTML coding, simply from keeping my website updated. But I learned by cut-and-pasting existing code, with trial and error. You can do the same, in a blog post like this one, by clicking the HTML button to reveal codes. But good gosh-a-mighty, I really don’t want to deal with all that crappiocca when time could better be spent updating the content. It involves first typing (text) your TOC, inserting a bookmark code/hyperlink to a keyword in the TOC that’s then tied to that same word (chapter title, for instance) that appears later in the text. Yikes!

The good folks at the Kindle Forum noted that the MobiPocket (another E-reader) can be used as sort of an interim step to add the HTML coding to your manuscript, in particular the TOC. So quick-like-a-bunny, I downloaded the free MobiPocket Creator software and took some time exploring that avenue. It still looks like a good bit of work.

Meanwhile, as I revised the manuscript, I made an effort to keep the chapter titles, headings, and subheads consistent simply for looks. There’s a nifty tool in Microsoft Office Word 2007 for text styles that I like, and mine defaults to the “normal” setting. There also are templates you can use for “title case” and “heading 1” and so on that work well. As it happens, I discovered that if you use these templates for your headings, they AUTOMATICALLY CODE for HTML when you later use the Table of Contents tool (on the “references” tab). I didn’t need the MobiPocket after all!

SNOOPY-DANCE-‘O-JOY!!!

With the stroke of a key or two, my TOC appeared already typed, coded, and ready to rumble. Here’s what you need to know, though. DO NOT use the “title case” as it doesn’t seem to appear on the finished TOC. I used the “heading 1” to type each chapter heading, and then “heading 2” for the subheads, and even “heading 3” for further divisions. That’s as far as the TOC auto-setup appears to work to code the bookmark HTML. If you need to change or add anything later in the text, you also can simply “update” the TOC and it will insert or remove automatically.

Therefore, rather than getting your tail in a twist over TOC and HTML, investigate the potential of your current wordprocessing software. I’m a PC (as the commercial says) but have no doubt that pretty much any popular wordprocessor has similar capabilities.

Next installment–pretty pictures and more!

Happy Kindle-izing!

amy

Kindle-izing & Backlist CPR

My last blog post “kindled” several email list discussions (sorry, couldn’t resist). It seems many of us have been frustrated by the stack-o-books under the bed collecting dust, while the hoards of used book sellers camped out on our online book pages collect inflated $$ on the same title, often before the R.I.P. trumpet finishes its echo.

There’s nothing restful about a dead book. After the weeks, months, or years of teeth-gnashing, blood-letting angst required to give birth to them, a book shouldn’t die in infancy. So I’m performing CPR on my backlist-babies: Copyright Publishing Redistribution. 

A colleague just asked me about prevailing upon my publishers to bring out these books in Ebook version, that it would be in their interest to do so and earn royalties? Well…yeah. But why should I give them back that right, when I can do it myself and earn much higher royalties than ever garnered with the paper versions? Granted, I may not sell a single Kindle book–which is a really good reason for the original publishers to steer clear. On the other paw, maybe I’ll raise some gas money.

On to the nuts-and-bolts of CPR. The Ebook formatted manuscript must be a single file. So I first opened each chapter/file in turn, and cut-and-pasted to one master file. Remember that you won’t necessarily need page breaks, or specific margins, because that all goes away once it’s translated to the HTML. Also, remember that chapter titles, headings, and the like need to be consistent throughout. This will be VITAL when creating your TOC in HTML (more about that in a future blog).

Last night, I completed the text formatting of Complete Kitten Care, including hyperlinks to product sites, and clickable links to additional information, such as my About.com columns. Heck, it’s all about cross promoting, right? Today, I’m ready to import the cute-and-fuzzy kitten pictures and illustrations–but wait!

Will the links work? For the Aging Cat book (and others), I’ve included hyperlinks to the expert veterinarians and researchers, their university pages, bios and such-like. I believe that’s an incredible value-added for the books. The pictures–well, if they don’t work as well, the text should still do most of the heavy lifting. Nothing to do but try and see how it works in the test uploads.

I do know that graphics suck when translated. My books have LOTS of text boxes and breakout sidebars. So I needed to find a way to have those set out, but without the boxes. Because when the boxes are translated to HTML, they “float” and move where you don’t want them, often over top of other text.

My answer: The running boxes, sidebars, and other pull-out material may be 1) title bolded, and used as regular paragraph within regular text; 2) typed in contrasting font from other text  and/or 3: place inside horizontal lines above/below text. 

I found that it works best to format each individual chapter/file first, before cutting-and-pasting into your master file. Make a note of how you plan to treat each heading and pull-out box of material, so you’re consistent. 

More on the CPR in future blogs. Kitten pictures am-a-calling! Incidentally, Kindle does not display color images (at least not yet). But the PC version DOES display color images. I suspect pictures will be a PITA so unless you’re a masochist, don’t bother. I may do a PDF version downloadable from my website, for those who want that version–complete with color photos, text boxes, and other cool schtuff.

PITA, here I come! Hell, successful writers have to be something of a masochist to endure all the rejection that comes with the job. It HURTS so GOOD! LOL!

Happy Kindle-izing!

 amy

Backlist Blues–Hope, Hype, & Hallelujia

I have had 23 pet care and behavior books published since 1992, all by “mainstream” bigtime NYC publishers. In the beginning, my agent commanded 6-figure advances for my books, and some of these books have sold extremely well.

It sucks to start at the top, cuz there’s only one direction to go from there, especially when Internet freebies and economic challenges meet.  The Internet and Animal Planet killed the kinds of books I write–prescriptive, heavily researched, highly reliable info-tainment about cat and dog care, behavior and training. Why buy a book, when you can access the information for free–and who cares if it’s the latest research from reliable sources or just the “guru of the moment” spouting off. Free = good.

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats remains in print and still earns decent royalties, thank goodness. April is National Pet First Aid Month so maybe it’ll get a bump up this month.  And my PETiQuette book still sells steady. The two Chicken Soup books also continue to sell, but I’ll never see another dime from them so I don’t really care (hint: another vent may come on THAT issue!).

Anyway, I have a number of solid-information books looking for a new life (and audience) as Ebooks. If folks want information from the Internet, I won’t fight them–and in fact, I’ll HELP them find some solid, good material at a price this economy can afford. Heck, I think some of these titles now sell on Ebay for $90 or so, and meanwhile I can provide updated information in a format they want at a fraction of the cost to readers or to me.

That’s the logic, anyway.

So I’ve begun the process of preparing the following books for E-book release, Kindle first and then maybe others:

Complete Kitten Care

Complete Care for Your Aging Cat

Complete Care for Your Aging Dog

Pet Care in the New Century: Cutting-Edge Medicine for Dogs & Cats

The Purina Encyclopedia of Cat Care

The Purina Encyclopedia of Dog Care

ComPETability

Updating veterinary medical information actually is the easiest part. The tricky issue has to do with formatting. I don’t know about other nonfiction authors, but it’s always been easiest for me to write each chapter as a separate WORD file. But for an E-book, the entire text must be in a single file.

TEDIUS BEYOND BELIEF!

Next, the file must be converted to html coding, which means all the lovely formatting (text boxes, tables, bold headlines and more) goes out the window. And unlike fiction manuscripts, a nonfiction book often includes line drawings and/or photos with captions. That also poses a challenge. In addition, the beauty and added-value of an E-book includes providing “hot links” not only within the book (to jump from the table of contents to a particular book section) but to product mentions and recommendations.

Currently I have pretty much completed the re-formatting of the “aging cat” book. It took several weeks, with multiple do-overs as I learned what worked and what sucked. I’ll know better how to do the next titles. Watch this blog for an ongoing “how-I-did-it” in the days and weeks ahead.  

amy-the-hopeful

Thrillerfest

I’m going to be at ThrillerFest in July, and I’d love it if you joined me! Authors appear on panels, sign books, and talk about writing, and it’d be fun to see you in the audience. We’ll have sessions every day, cocktail parties every night (included in your registration price), and there’s a full bookshop on site, where authors can sign your purchases personally to you. You can meet this year’s superstar headliners: Ken Follett, David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Brad  Meltzer, Linda Fairstein, and our first-ever “True Thriller” recipient, Mark Bowden, famed for his nonfiction Black Hawk  Down. ThrillerFest is Friday and Saturday, July 9 and 10, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Register and reserve a hotel room (at a terrific rate for New York in the summer) by clicking on www.ThrillerFest.org and following the quick-and-easy directions. (CraftFest with a “speed dating with agents” is on Weds and Thurs). I hope to see you there!

amy

Betty White, CatChow.com, About.com & Kindle

After last month’s several days in Las Vegas at the Western Veterinary Conference (terrific event, btw), I’m near deadline on the four article assigments that resulted. All will be published by Catnip (a Tufts University newsletter), two on behavior, one covering nutrition and the fourth a fascinating look at kitty neurologic disorders.

The first of three radio shows taped while in Vegas has been posted to the Pet Peeves show–hear from Betty White (yes, THE Betty White!). Future shows feature a veterinary behaviorist offering tips on cat stress reduction, and a holistic veterinarian on the controversy surrounding cat declaw surgery.

Two other big bits of news–check out the updated look at CatChow.com mentors and send me a question. I’m also the new cat behavior contributing writer at cats.About.com, providing a dozen articles, columns and more each month. I hope you’ll visit me at one or both of these sites, as I simply can’t seem to keep this blog updated in a timely manner.

Oh, the other stuff that’s in the works–you’ve asked, and I’ve listened–several of my out-of-print books will be released once again (updated!) via Amazon Kindle. Stay tuned, and I’ll give a shout out when the Aging Dog, Aging Cat, and Kitten Care books once again are available.